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Question I love the look of Japanese PC-9800 games. I've been interested in making a game or pixel art using an emulator, but don't know how.

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27 Mar 2020
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Hello all, I'm new here. I was slated to go on a tour to Japan in the summer, but due to recent events, that has been pushed to next summer. Mom and dad feel extremely guilty about not being able to provide me with a graduation gift but I've told them several times I can wait lol.

I first discovered the PC-9800 series when I found out about the first 5 Touhou games. I researched more about the PC-9800 and found it was pretty much the de-facto development platform for Japanese programmers in the 80's and 90's.


I'd love to have one of these, but the cost of the unit, importation, accessories, and software (plus a voltage converter to step 120v down to 100v) would be grand, so an emulator will suffice.

The pixel art of the games is amazing. Being this was a unit designed for home and office use, of course it had beefy specs for the 80's and 90's.






From other info I found about this system, many variants were constructed over the years with different specifications, but they generally had a DOS prompt, used a variant of BASIC called N88-BASIC, had a proprietary chip just for rendering kanji and other characters requiring more than 8 bits to render (ASCII characters and commands all use one byte for a total of 256 assignments but Japanese computers needed double-byte systems for all those kanji, and two bytes gives 65,536 possible assignments which more than encompasses all the jouyou and jinmeiyou kanji).

And not only that, they were completely incompatible with IBM machines of the day as they had a proprietary memory and expansion bus, used 1.2 MB floppy disks instead of 1.4, and the primary hard drive was assigned A: instead of C:. Oh, and instead of a \ it would have a ¥ when denoting delimiters. It didn't use CGA, EGA, or VGA graphics standards but its own 16 colour 600x480 (in some cases 800x480) graphics controller with a 56 Hz refresh rate (And it even had its own 15-pin DIN connector). Instead of using a YM3812 for FM synthesis, it had a YM2608 that had 16 channels instead of 9, several being SSG and one even having sampling properties.

I would like to know how to program music, do art, and possibly program a game for an emulator, but the problem is, that requires knowledge of programming languages like Music Macro Language and N88-BASIC, and knowledge of how the system works, most of the documentation of which is in Japanese and my knowledge of the language is about as good as my knowledge of the complete workings of the system itself.

Granted some tools designed for emulators are still being updated to this very day, but being how little-known this thing is outside of Japan, I don't know many here who would be able to help.

The first thing I would do is look for an illustration or CAD software that I can run in an emulator. People have been able to create works using software with limited hardware emulation and colour palettes, and I really like the aesthetic. (I wonder if I would be able to use a Wacom tablet as they've been around since the 80's but I doubt it.)



However I can't seem to find software for the PC-9800 that is focused on art (as my knowledge of Japanese is very elementary), nor a modern pixel art editor that supports ordered dithering and purposeful colour palette limitations to give the illusion of more than 16 colours.

If anyone has more knowledge they'd like to contribute or any resources they'd like to share then that'd be greatly appreciated. Thank you :)

Just bought a book on Japanese today,
If anyone has any advice,
5 May 2013
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To convert to that type of image, you can use the free software 'GIMP'.

Load the full-color version of your image, then go to Image->Mode->Indexed and set your channels to 16.

Historically, you often locked some channels to UI colors and optimized the rest, but GIMP doesn't really give that option - it can optimize, or it can custom palette,
but it doesn't really mix the two.

If you can find another way to calculate your part-locked palette you could specify it as a custom palette. You could also possibly put big solid blocks of the UI colors as
a border to your image to try to force GIMP to include those colors when it calculates the optimum palette. A bit kludgy, but it should work.

Honestly though, I wouldn't recommend writing a game for the system. If you want to write retro games, take a look at RPG Maker. If it won't do what you need, consider learning C# and Unity -- it has a strong 2D API, which you can combine with retro art to get a very old-school feel. (I heard Unreal was adding a 2D API, so that may also be an option by now.)

You can do what you want of course, if it's just for a personal hobby, but a retro-styled game on a modern platform can be shared with more people than an emulator-only game.

It would be extremely difficult to get any tablets or scanners working with such a system. You would need the peripherals to be actually made at the time, and still in good working order, and with accompanying drivers in a readable format. That's a lot to ask.

You could actually write a device driver yourself, which is technically possible but very impractical, but only for an emulated system ; a system that old simply won't have USB ports, so you'd also need to build custom hardware to use a modern peripheral on a system that old.

You can, however, always create art with modern tools and then convert it to 16 bit, which is by far the easier path. A common workflow of the time, in any case, was draw->scan->color, because early tablets and graphics software left a lot to be desired and drawing with a mouse is kind of horrible.
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